Last week I participated in an impromptu chicken rescue effort. I had inquired about a Craig's List advertisement for 1-year old laying hens. A local poster had 25 to sell and I e-mailed on Thursday afternoon to ask if she would sell smaller numbers. I had offered to buy 5 of them. I didn't hear from her on Thursday evening, so I supposed that she wasn't interested. On Friday morning, I received an alarming e-mail advising me that if I wanted any chickens, I should come over right away because her child had let them out of their pen and her dogs were killing them.
There are times when adrenaline just kicks us into hyperdrive, and this was one of them. I rounded up chicken carrying crates in a matter of seconds, fetched my chicken-catching net (a fishing net on a long pole) and work gloves and jumped in the truck. Time was of the essence. I drove quickly to the appropriate location, without breaking any speed limit laws of course (cough, splutter...)
Anyway, I arrived to find a yard full of barking bulldogs (this clearly being the home of a bulldog breeding operation). I had to make my way past dead chicken bodies and body parts. It was rather upsetting to say the least. And when I met my soon-to-be new flock members, they were a bit of a sorry sight. The owner explained that her son has ADD and forgot to feed and water the chickens sometimes, and she didn't have time to keep checking on them. I knew, of course, that I had to take them all. So, we rounded them up and crated them and I rushed them home (once again, of course, no speed limit laws were broken...I think...)
I thoroughly inspected 18 hens and 3 roosters. Mostly they just had superficial wounds, but some had severe feather loss, older skin lesions, many have bumblefoot (a fairly common foot infection among poultry) and some have scaley leg mites. I prefer to use natural remedies so they are not receiving antibiotics - just vaseline on the legs and feet (smothers mites and kills them), foot washes and ointment for their skin problems, and some good old fashioned chicken cuddles.
ANYWAY, all this brings me around to the subject of keeping chickens warm. Since many were missing large quantities of feathers (combination of over-zealous roosters, poor diet, and dog incidents), I had to determine how to keep them warm. I keep up with a blog by Lola Nova, because she shows fun sewing projects on her blog and I like her thoughts. I don't personally know Lola, but she inspired me to be creative with fleece. I used my first rescue chicken, Rosie, as a model for my chicken coats. Rosie will tolerate just about anything because she is such a sweet girl. So, she was my perfect model - she allowed me to measure her and do multiple fittings. I had her in a box next to my sewing table while I worked on this project.
Rosie has a habit of putting wood shavings on her back in her nest box when she is preparing to lay an egg. As I began my sewing project, I looked down at Rosie in her box....
Yes indeed, we were preparing for an egg....
So Rosie kept trying to make herself disappear into a sea of shredded paper, and I kept sewing away and gently measuring Rosie and trying one wing through an improvised "sleeve" hole and of course this would dislodge paper, which she diligently replaced. I kept sewing, she kept pushing, and sure enough....
The coat was made just about the same time that the egg was laid. And a very large egg it was indeed. 3.2 ounces in fact, beating out the earlier egg from my "Rosie's Enormous Egg" post.
Here is Rosie on the henwalk (because she doesn't do the catwalk).
So having determined that chicken coats were truly possible, I proceeded to make some for my worst case chickens, who seem very happy with their new outfits (although one does undo the velcro all the time - sort of an exhibitionist chicken). They come out of the coop more often now with everybody else, instead of staying huddled inside. So thank you Lola, for the crafty inspiration. My chickens certainly think it was a great idea.
Edited 15/12/12 to add photo showing overall pattern...plus this description:
Here is a picture of the coat off the chicken. I haven't got any of the coats any more, so I am not sure of exact sizing, but this is how it looks when flat. You can see I put a velcro closing on it at the neck. I didn't want to use a button because I didn't want any button ingestion happening! The most important measurements are the space between the two wing holes - measure your chicken's back but it's probably 4 or 5 inches on a regular bird I think - and the length at the top edge that goes around the neck. Ensure the top edge is long enough to go around the neck without compressing on the crop when full. The full coat length should be easy to measure - just go from your chicken's neck to the end of the tail. I did zig-zag stitching around the sides and around the wing holes but that's not entirely necessary. It just helped keep it a little bit more secure. Also, I recommend not using red fleece - chickens like to peck red things.